Grant #291

Independence Lake Forest Resilience Project

The proposed project is a continuation of previous forest health improvement work that has been funded in part through Truckee River Fund (TRF) grant awards, including the 2022 “Developing Forest Resilience to Fire at Independence Lake” project, which is still active and anticipated to be completed during the 2024 field season.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) awarded TNC a $2 million grant in 2020. Nearly $1 million of the funding is still available for continued forest improvement and restoration work at Independence Lake. The $183,610 in TRF funding being requested through this proposal would complement the Cal Fire grant and allow for an entire unit of 270 acres to be treated. Specifically, this grant would provide funding to assist with implementation of 43 acres ($3,500 per acre) of mechanical forest thinning treatments in the T-4 Treatment Unit (refer to attached map) which is located northeast of the lake. The Cal Fire funding will be used to match TRF funds (18 acres of treatment) as well as leveraged to treat an additional 209 acres to finish thinning of the unit. Work will be implemented under the approved Timber Harvest Plan (also attached) by a Licensed Timber Operator contracted and supervised by TNC.

Continued forest management is crucial to the preservation of Independence Lake. While fire adapted forests of California were once characterized by large, widely spaced trees and periodic, mixed-severity fires, the forests are no longer fire adapted and are instead dominated by dense thickets of small trees and brush with little to no regenerative fire. Experts estimate that up to 10 million acres of forested land in California alone need some form of treatment over the next twenty years (e.g., ecological thinning, prescribed fire) to restore their health and resiliency. Without these strategic interventions, we risk losing the many benefits healthy forests provide — such as the provisioning of clean water and the sequestration of atmospheric carbon — to large and high-severity megafires.

Recent events in California  and Nevada forests, such as the drought induced death of more than 129 million trees over three years (2015 – 2017) and a significant increase in the number of large wildfires are clear indications that our forests need careful and active stewardship that is grounded in science and guided by ecological principles. To assist in determining the forest stewardship needs of Independence Lake, a burn probability analysis was conducted by Edward Smith, TNC Senior Forest Ecologist and Charlotte Stanley, TNC Spatial Data Analyst. The results predict that the likelihood of wildfire is moderate to high in the forests surrounding Independence Lake as depicted on the attached map of burn probability. Without continued forest health treatments at Independence Lake wildfires pose a significant threat to the forests and therefore to the Truckee River watershed. This project will contribute to mitigating those risks and will benefit not just Independence Lake, but also the surrounding watershed and water quality of the Truckee River system.

TMWA Benefit:

This project falls within Truckee River Fund’s Re-forestation and Re-vegetation Project Priority. The project will improve the resiliency of the forest to wildfires and climate change, while reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire near the lake that would result in increased erosion and sedimentation with negative impacts to water quality and aquatic habitat.